Is the workplace full of Harvey Weinsteins?

It’s difficult to miss the subject of sexual harassment at the moment given all of the media coverage of what appears to be a systemic issue. From Hollywood A-Listers, politicians, lawyers and ordinary working people, everyone has a story to tell.

A recent BBC survey of 6,000 men and women found that two in five women in the UK say they have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work and only a quarter of them reported it. Among men, one in five (18%) said they have been harassed at work.

With the #metoo social media campaign, many more are feeling confident in speaking out. So let’s look at sexual harassment in the workplace.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination and is covered under the Equality Act 2010.

For it to qualify as harassment the behaviour needs to be of a sexual nature and:

  • violate your dignity
  • make you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • create a hostile or offensive environment

It could be sexual comments or jokes; physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, showing pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature or sending emails and texts with a sexual content. Victims and perpetrators can be men or women.

What if it happens to you?

If it does happen to you what should you do about it?  Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Politely challenge the offensive behaviour. Tell them you are not prepared to tolerate the behaviour, tell them how it made you feel, tell them what action you will take if they repeat their behaviour.
  • Speak to someone you trust within the business whether that is your line manager, HR or anybody else.
  • Implement the harassment and grievance policy and make a formal complaint.
  • If the outcome is not appropriate, consult an Employment Solicitor for advice on a Constructive Unfair Dismissal and Discrimination claim.
  • In some situations, it may be appropriate to contact the police.

How can you prevent sexual harassment occurring in your business?

An employer has a duty of care to protect staff from unlawful discrimination in whatever form it may be.  Whilst you cannot control all of your employee interactions there are practical steps that you can follow to minimise the chance of it happening and, in the circumstance that it does, handle it lawfully and appropriately:

  • Have a clear harassment policy and grievance procedures and ensure that these are issued to all employees.
  • Create a culture of respect and dignity and make it clear that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated. This not only creates an environment that potential harassers do not feel able to do it in without recrimination but also means that the employee being harassed feels able to speak about it in the event that it does happen.
  • Appoint a staff ‘champion’.
  • Be consistent in your approach to dealing with any issues that arise at any point. Inconsistency in dealing with any issue brought to you by a staff member can leave you vulnerable to a discrimination or constructive unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal.
  • Show good leadership. This is massively important.  Whether you are the CEO or a Line Manager if you exhibit the behaviours of good leadership then this will encourage your team to not only behave appropriately but also feel as though inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated.
  • Train staff and managers.

Training on equality and anti-discrimination is the best evidence of your attempts to take preventative action and acts as a defence to a discrimination claim against the business.

Jay Bhayani is a specialist employment law solicitor and MD of Bhayani HR & Employment Law. Jay can be contacted on 0114 3032300 or email